The article in the Slovenian newspaper Delo can be consummated in a relaxing atmosphere while sipping strong, black coffee. Namely, the story of Marija Tul – “Coffee Mom” – brings back the memories of 1960, the time of the birth of the only Slovenian national coffee brand – Barcaffe.
One of the statements of the author of the original coffee recipe particularly awakens attention: “At first I tested the flavor alone. Then we checked it out with our fellow co-workers. Those who sensed the really tiny content differences in constituents, like sugar, acid, salt were added to the tasting sessions. We always offered more refined taste according to our team preference, so the customers had to adapt to it.”
Really? But where are the focus groups, the research, the segmentations, the UX measurements, etc.?
No. The focus groups didn’t have any influence on the new product back then. The perseverance, the differentiation (including the quality), the team spirit (“we were rich because we had each other”), and also a mistake (printer’s coloring error caused the change of package color – that became maybe the most recognizable element of the mix) – all upgraded by the good old imagination or creativity of individuals in these firms.
As far as I am familiar the original stories – mostly as told by the participants – other legendary national brands Elan (skis), Cockta (soft drinks), Radenska (mineral water), Gorenje (home appliances), etc. focus groups didn’t have any influence in the beginnings. Yet all the brand have succeeded in deeply touching emotional chords of more than one generation of its customers.
But isn’t this something peculiar to socialism – where there simply wasn’t enough choice and competition?
Wouldn’t say so. Remember the stories about Coca-Cola, Adidas, Apple etc. How many focus groups have been involved in the one John Pemberton’s efforts to introduce medicinal beverage that should help cure the morphine addiction (John Pemberton was a recovered morphine addict)? Yes, the drink that was introduced in pharmacies was named Coca-Cola.
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Whose statement was that? No, it wasn’t the Head of the Central Commission for Socialist Planning but the High Commissar of the capitalist Mecca – Silicon Valley – Steve Jobs himself.
Ask also D’Amico marketing director of Cirque Du Soleil: If we’d translate the expressed needs of the visitors of ballet events, then you’d always provide Swan’s Lake. Year after year.
So, is this meant as a lesson to drop all the research when creating new products?
On the contrary. The research has really made huge leaps and can provide valuable insights that help to avoid lots of mistakes, improve the products, etc. But there are also limitations.
The story of Barcaffe and its origins can thus serve as a little historical reminder: measurements and research and analysis, and university-educated marketers are just not enough for creating lasting brands. They can provide a solid frame, but at some point, the process should be left to more free forms – imagination and venturing into new directions.
That said … the coffee is almost finished. We can only congratulate Marija on her contribution to the brand that travels smoothly over time. Let it live – hopefully in hands of those who will be able to measure, so that they will provide the environment to create!